Saturday, May 26, 2007

Kessler's Helps Feed Storybook Land's Win-Win-Win Growth in Aberdeen, S.D.

The Company
615 6th Avenue SE
Aberdeen, SD 57401
Phone: [605] 225-1692

Founded: 1939
Employees: 275

Contact: Tim Kessler, Owner

The Business
Kessler's was founded by Tim Kessler's grandfather, a German who, at the age of 12, immigrated to South Dakota from Russia with a family of 12.

"He was a meat cutter at a butcher shop in Aberdeen when he decided to buy a small corner grocery store across the street from where we are presently located," reported Tim. "I'm third generation and the store is currently a 'chain of one.'"

In its first days, tiny Kessler's was staffed by Tim's grandfather, grandmother, father and aunt. Now, in its 56,000-square-foot space, the supermarket's 275 employees sell groceries, liquor, apparel, catering services, rug-cleaning equipment rentals, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, and provide dine-in and carry-out foodservice. Want flowers? Kessler's FTD Floral Shop is right next door.

The Buzz
Kessler's, AKA "Your Hometown Grocer," is a magnet for people who appreciate the affordable, one-stop shopping the store delivers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, one five-star review on Yahoo! Local -- mostly, about the store's "fresh produce," "great variety of products" and "genuinely friendly folks" -- came from a customer who drives 442 miles to shop at Kessler's.

"We've always been very high on customer service and value," said Tim. "My father was a pioneer in adding services that, in the 1960s and 1970s, were only found in the Twin Cities [some 270 miles away]. Today, our store has all of the services you would expect anywhere, including top-notch perishables, full pharmacy, and the largest liquor store in the state of South Dakota.

"We do have customers that drive well over a hundred miles, and I'm not quite sure I could tell you exactly why. Perhaps it would be a combination of lots of things, including our meat. Since my grandfather was a meat cutter -- my father was one, too, as was I -- we've consistently put a very large emphasis on high-quality beef in a day and age when everyone else is trying to take shortcuts and buy prepackaged meats."

The Partners
* Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce
* Aberdeen Convention and Visitors Bureau
* Aberdeen Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department
* Aberdeen Sertoma Club
* Glacial Lakes & Prairies Tourism Association
* South Dakota Office of Tourism
* Countless Aberdeen service clubs, businesses and individuals that have donated time, labor, materials and money to Storybook Land's ongoing, near-magical development during the past 30-plus years

The Catalyst
In 1971, Lincoln, Neb.-based Hoskins-Western-Sonderegger Engineers Architects was commissioned by officials of the then-named Aberdeen Park and Recreation Board to develop a master plan for Wylie Park, located one mile north of Aberdeen on U.S. Highway 281. Major features of that increased-use plan included improving picnic and playground areas, development of walking trails and zoo exhibits, and establishing a campground.

The firm's master plan also suggested the development of two interactive themed play areas: Storybook Land, which related to various books, fairy tales and nursery rhymes; and Land of Oz, based on "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," by L. Frank Baum, who'd begun his career as a journalist in Aberdeen 10 years before penning the children's classic book-turned-Academy Award-winning film.

The Strategy
In 1972, Hoskins-Western-Sonderegger completed a separate master plan that focused on Storybook Land and Land of Oz. The firm's professionals described their vision: "The basic concept of Storybook Land and the Land of Oz is to provide children of all ages an area where active participation will create individual interest in each of the storybook and Oz characters presented.

"Storybook Land and Land of Oz will be a fantasy of design, color, animation and music that will delight young and old alike, with an outdoor stage of settings pertaining to fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and the Wizard of Oz."

The Process
Aberdeen's 40-member Sertoma Club immediately got on board to fund the Storybook Land/Land of Oz master plan, and then made a commitment to adopt development of the 10-acre theme park areas as their club project. Now, 35 years, 11,000 volunteer sweat-equity hours, and more than $500,000 later, Sertoma Club's 59 members are rightly proud of their integral role in creating one of the region's -- and state's -- most popular attractions. Each year, approximately 250,000 people visit the park, which is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., April 15 through Oct. 15.

"The Aberdeen Sertoma Club thought that the Storybook Land project would be a good fit for the club because of the huge potential for the Aberdeen community," recalled Bob Gruman, chairman of the club's Storybook Land Committee and just-named 2007 Sertoman of the Year. "At that time, the club members probably did not fully realize that the project would develop into a major tourist attraction.

"It should also be noted that most of the club members at that time had young families. That may well have been a contributing factor in the decision to adopt the project."

Other local service clubs have also been involved in developing Storybook Land, as have many individuals and businesses. By all accounts, though, Kessler's has represented Aberdeen's commercial sector most consistently and generously.

"My father first gave to this project in the late 1970s, when the park was just getting developed," Tim recalled. "I followed suit with many more of the projects that Doug [Johnson, director of Aberdeen Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department] and the Sertoma Club came up with. Each time, the park just got better and better. What started out to be a great idea by Sertoma has turned out to be a major attraction for Aberdeen."

About 10 years ago, Sertoma Club started to make their prized attraction available for wondrous wintertime viewing, too. Every holiday season, club members team with Aberdeen Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department employees to put up, operate and take down hundreds of thousands of lights and decorations that illuminate Storybook Land from Thanksgiving through New Year's. Approximately 25,000 visitors view Sertoma Club's Festival of Lights display annually.

In 2005, after raising $300,000, Sertoma Club had the latest ride installed at Storybook Land/Land of Oz. The Wizard's Balloon ride features eight festive balloons, which can accommodate up to 32 riders total. The balloons, powered by a hydraulic cylinder, slowly rise and rotate until they reach a maximum height of 32 feet. Once the ride reaches the top, the balloons continue to rotate to offer a panoramic view of the Land of Oz.

The Financials
Admission to the theme park is free. Profits generated from all Storybook Land/Land of Oz rides, concessions, gift shop purchases, sponsorships, etc., help to support future improvements at Storybook Land and the Land of Oz. In addition to Sertoma Club's generous support, matching grant funds and city funds, donations and in-kind contributions from Kessler's and other businesses have helped developed the theme park's infrastructure.

"The park does not generate a great amount of revenue, due to the fact there is no admission fee," Johnson noted. "The only fees charged are for the train, carousel and balloon rides, and for concessions. The gross revenue is generally about $250,000 a year. All profits from the rides are reinvested in maintenance and development of the area. The Sertoma Club and city hope to keep admission to the park free, due to the fact that it has been developed primarily with funds provided through donations."

How much has Kessler's contributed to Storybook Land's development? "I honestly don't know," Tim replied. "It would be tens of thousands, I guess -- but the dollars were put in over the years, so it's been much more gratifying than laborious. This is a great place where folks can take their families, have a great day, and spend next to nothing if they so choose; I think that's what makes it so great.

"The park has certainly come a long way since our first project of a 'homemade Captain Hook's Ship.' That project came about with lots of lumber and volunteers from our store putting together a bit of a crude rendition. Later, we tore that down and got a 'store-bought' version. It's pretty much the way the whole park just kept evolving. As time went on, it just got better and better."

Next up among Storybook Land's development plans: planning a new parking lot entrance, which Gruman is spearheading. "Sertoma members have come to identify with Storybook Land as more than just a project," he said. "Members have seen Storybook Land grow from an idea to a major community attraction for children and adults of all ages.

"There remains a lot of work and coordination to fully achieve our dream, though. For instance, we also plan to build a 4,000-square-foot visitor center along with a concrete plaza. It's expected to cost about $700,000, with a projected completion date in early 2010. There is also a lot of work yet to do in the Land of Oz."

The Upshot
Quantifying construction costs and revenues from rides, concessions, etc., is easier than estimating Storybook Land's spinoff economic-development value and worth to those involved in creating it. Still, those close to it see the attraction's benefits every day.

Directing the theme park's day-t0-day maintenance and beautification gives Johnson a wide-angle perspective. "There is considerable indirect revenue generated for our community as a result of the many visitors who travel to Aberdeen to visit the area. While they're in our community, they shop and puchase goods, which benefits us economically. There is also a significant economic benefit as a result of the marketing that is done both locally and and by the South Dakota Department of Tourism to promote Wylie Park and Storybook Land.

"The community is extremely proud of Storybook Land, and the community's financial support of the area is testimony to their ongoing commitment to develop this important asset. Storybook Land has become the signature attraction for the community, and the city's logo -- which is used by the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, Aberdeen Convention and Visitors Bureau, and others -- features the castle. The Chamber and CVB both market and promote Storybook Land as the premier attraction in Aberdeen."

For her part, CVB Executive Director Nancy Krumm knows a good thing when she sees it -- and Storybook Land is, indeed, a very good thing for Aberdeen. "Tourism is South Dakota's second-largest industry," she said. "We know that families who come to visit Storybook Land spend, on average, $122 per day. In 2006, visitor spending had a $46.12 million impact on our economy in Brown County."

Krumm added that, in 2006, Aberdeen visitors came from 45 states and 14 foreign countries. Most were families -- from tots to grandparents -- seeking a "great, family-friendly and economical vacation that will build lasting memories."

And the carryover benefits? "Tourism is about more than visitors. It is about jobs, our families, and our tax dollars," Krumm noted. "Money spent by visitors to Storybook Land helps fuel our economy. Every non-resident dollar spent in Aberdeen brings three pennies in tax revenue to the city, which is money not paid for by local citizens. These dollars, once spent, stay in our community and have a compounding effect that trickles down to every level.

"Visitor dollars help support community quality of life for our residents. They help support our recreational and sports facilities, our arts and cultural programs, and our community festivals and events. And, we have had business leads resulting from a visitor's positive experience in our community."

What does Krumm regard as Aberdeen's key selling points? "One of our biggest assets for tourism is our people!" she enthused. "We constantly hear what a friendly, helpful, safe and beautiful community we have. Our travelers feel welcome and wanted. Families and visitors have a wonderful experience here, making memories that last a lifetime. And our community partners and volunteers play the biggest role in making this happen."

When asked what jazzes her the most about Storybook Land, Krumm didn't miss a beat. "It's the look on people's faces, both young and old, when they realize what a treasure Storybook Land really is," she replied. "I have had people tell me they enjoy it as much as Disneyland. It truly is a family-friendly and affordable place to visit...Plus, the landscaping and the setting of the park is absolutely beautiful!"

Gruman beams when considering the part that Sertoma Club has played in developing the city's fantastic theme park. "There is no way to measure the personal satisfaction and pride that our members have gotten from this project," he said. "Storybook Land turned out to be a dream come true beyond expectations. I have never before witnessed such a display of support from the business community, individuals, service clubs and city officials.

"I'd like to make special mention of the great working relationship that we enjoy with the Aberdeen Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department and its employees, headed by Doug Johnson. They have been at our side since the beginning. The structures and grounds are always well-maintained and managed. Without this partnership, Storybook Land would not exist."

The Takeaway
Considering that he's a successful, third-generation super-marketer, one might anticipate that Tim Kessler tracks every single dollar. Not when it comes to community giveback.

"In a town the size of Aberdeen [population: 24,658], there are many needs," he explains. "I've always believed that being involved and giving is a civic duty. While there are so many things that I give to, Storybook Land has been one of the most gratifying. It's a place where you can go and see people totally enjoying the experience. Folks drive a long ways to come to visit the park, and the entire community has done an outstanding job in making it better and better.

"As far as putting an ROI on any of this... It's impossible, really, and I don't spend much time thinking about it. All I can tell you is that it gives me a 'warm fuzzy' and I'm glad I'm able to do it -- especially, to be a part of Storybook Land."

Last year, during the first-ever Storybook Land Festival, a bronze relief of Sertoma Club member Ben Benson -- an avid project leader, volunteer and benefactor of the theme park -- was unveiled. This year's Storybook Land Festival will combine with the popular Oz Festival, to be held on July 28, 2007. Some 3,500 people are expected to come and partake in the festivities.

Click here to begin planning a road trip to Aberdeen.

Sources:, "History of Storybook Land," South Dakota Office of Tourism [photo]

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

House Committee Approves Bill to Help Small Business Cope With Rising Energy Costs

Rising energy costs have hit small businesses especially hard over the past few years, impacting their daily operations and forcing many to alter their business models. To help small businesses cope with climbing energy prices, the House Small Business Committee approved legislation, H.R. 2389, the Small Energy Efficient Business Act [SEEBA], to provide loans, education, and investment to small firms for energy efficient buildings, fixtures, equipment and technology.

"Small businesses nationwide are struggling as energy becomes increasingly expensive," said Chairwoman Nydia M. Velázquez [D-N.Y.]. "It is clear that swift action is needed to help firms deal with the record gas and energy prices. One way to do this is ensuring entrepreneurs are educated and aware of the assistance available to them, as well as helping them to remain the top producers of alternative sources of energy."

Addressing these challenges, the committee approved legislation yesterday that modifies existing Small Business Administration [SBA] programs to better assist small companies with adapting to today's changing energy environment. SEEBA, introduced by Congressman Heath Shuler [D-N.C.], gives small firms that are acquiring or developing energy efficient technologies more flexible loan terms.

SEEBA requires SBA to develop a strategy for educating small firms about energy efficiency, and establishes an energy efficiency program for the Small Business Development Centers [SBDCs]. The bill effectively spurs investment in the production of alternative sources, such as biofuels.

H.R. 2389 also promotes development of energy efficient technology by expanding the Small Business Investment Company [SBIC] program, increasing investment in small producers. Creation of the Renewable Fuel Capital Investment [RFCI] program, an initiative designed to help small firms develop renewable energy sources and new technologies, is also included.

Collectively, these measures benefit consumers and producers, thus reducing costs and increasing competition in the market for energy efficient goods and services.

"Small businesses are the first to be affected by rising energy prices, and small businesses will be the first to find the solutions," said Shuler, chairman of the Subcommittee on Rural and Urban Entrepreneurship. "This bill gives them the tools they need to lead our nation to energy efficiency and independence."

SEEBA will make new, energy efficient technology more affordable and accessible. As consumption grows an anticipated one percent annually over the next 25 years, costs for traditional energy sources will continue to increase.

H.R. 2389 will provide technical assistance to help small business owners implement strategies to mitigate energy costs. It also launches a comprehensive plan to disseminate energy efficiency information through programs that are already positioned around the country.

SEEBA will not only help small businesses cope with rising costs, but will also increase investment in small firms that are developing renewable energy solutions, recognizing the leadership of entrepreneurs in the alternative-energy sector.

This bill provides both business development resources and injections of capital that will contribute to creating the next generation of technologies. Simply put, SEEBA is essential to helping small firms cope with rising energy costs and, thus, reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

"Small businesses have proven themselves to be flexible and nimble, adapting to changing to market conditions," said Chairwoman Velázquez. "The legislation approved gives entrepreneurs the tools to implement energy efficient strategies and develop renewable-energy technologies."

H.R. 2389 has garnered support from a wide array of small-business organizations, including: Independent Electrical Contractors, Air Conditioning Contractors of America, National Roofing Contractors Association, Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association, National Small Business Association, and Small Business Majority.

GoodBiz113's take: Four months into his new job in Congress, former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler is already scoring on behalf of small businesses -- and everyone else who seeks sustainable energy technologies and energy independence. He's to be commended for taking far-reaching initiative. Congresswoman Velázquez deserves kudos, too, for empowering him to, well, "run with the ball."

Sources: Library of Congress, PBS [photo], U.S. House Small Business Committee

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Kerry Focuses on Expanding Minority Entrepreneurship Opportunities

Today, Sen. John Kerry [D-Mass.] urged the Bush Administration to take steps to expand access to capital and federal contracts for minority entrepreneurs.

Kerry, chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, chaired a hearing to highlight the barriers many minorities face as they seek to start or expand a business, and to discuss policy solutions to address these challenges. “One of our nation’s greatest assets is our diversity," he said. "Investing in minority businesses only helps to increase the value of that asset.

“For example, in Massachusetts, minorities make up about 15 percent of our population, but they own only about five percent of the businesses and account for just 1.4 percent of sales. We must do more to create opportunities for successful business growth, and remove the barriers for minority entrepreneurs.”

Over the last 10 years, minority business enterprises accounted for over 50 percent of the two million new businesses started in the United States, crossing every industrial sector -- from financial services and health care, to construction and transportation. Today, there are more than four million minority-owned companies in the country, with annual sales totaling $694 billion. There are nearly 50,000 minority-owned firms in Massachusetts.

According to the 2002 U.S. Census data, minorities make up 32 percent of our population, yet minority business ownership is only at 18 percent. In addition, these firms make significantly less than their non-minority counterparts. The average gross receipts of minority firms was $162,000 -- considerably lower than the $448,000 average gross receipts of non-minority firms.

This disparity demonstrates the need for targeted programs at the federal level for minority entrepreneurs. Kerry is working on several pieces of legislation to help close the gap for minority firms. At today’s hearing, he promised to introduce bipartisan legislation this summer to improve the federal contracting process for small firms and increase oversight of federal agencies.

The Minority Entrepreneurship Development Act of 2007, which Kerry introduced in January and is cosponsored by Sens. Mary Landrieu [D-La.], Hillary Clinton [D-N.Y.], and Ben Cardin [D-Md.], would give grants to historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and tribal colleges to help train the entrepreneurs of the future. This legislation passed the Committee with bipartisan support last year.

Kerry’s access to capital bill, S. 1256, the Small Business Lending Reauthorization and Improvements Act of 2007, would improve all of the Small Business Administration’s loan programs -- including strengthening the microloan program, which, proportionally, serves more minorities than other programs. The bill would also create an Office of Minority Small Business Development within the agency -- a provision the Committee unanimously passed last year. This bill passed the Committee on May 16, 2007.

GoodBiz113's take: As our nation's cultural melting pot grows, it simply makes sense to have programs in place to help share the wealth. Thanks to Sen. Kerry's ongoing collaborative efforts, that'll happen for win-win-win good.

Sources: Library of Congress, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

In 20-Month Wake of Hurricane Katrina, Blue Dog Relief Tally Now Exceeds $1 Million

Last September, when GoodBiz113 originally profiled New Orleans-based Rodrigue Studio [see "Louisiana Artist Brings Post-Katrina [Blue Dog] Relief to New Orleans"], the Blue Dog Relief: George Rodrigue Art Campaign for Recovery had already donated $700,000 to several not-for-profit organizations after Hurricane Katrina, including:
* New Orleans Museum of Art [NOMA]
* Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross [ARCNO]
* United Way for the Greater New Orleans Area
* United Way of America

The tally has now exceeded $1 million, and other groups are also benefiting from the talents and generosity of world-renowned artist George Rodrigue, a Louisiana native. A portion of sales from his growing Blue Dog Relief print collection -- i.e., "We Will Rise Again", "To Stay Alive We Need Levee 5", "Throw Me Something FEMA", "Cut Through the Red Tape" [see image, above], "You Can't Drown the Blues" and "We Are Marching Again" -- continue to contribute to south Louisiana's post-Katrina recovery.

Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities [May 2007]
A portion of these funds will be used for the permanent installation at the Louisiana Humanities Center in New Orleans [938 Lafayette Street] of the sculpture "Circle Dance: Big Sister’s Window," by New Orleans artist John Scott. Scott's studio in New Orleans East suffered terrible damage from Katrina’s floodwaters, followed by a devastating robbery by thieves, who stole his metal sculptures to melt them down for scrap.

The remaining funds will be used for artists' grants, as will the future donations pledged to LEH by Rodrigue.

Fence artists, Jackson Square [April 2007]
The money helped with everything from buying artists' supplies, to paying rent and car notes. This sort of help is especially important as the quiet summer months [and hurricane season] loom.

When you visit New Orleans, please remember to support the artists on the fence.

Rodrigue is committed to continuing these meaningful contributions. For information about purchasing the silkscreens available through Blue Dog Relief, go to:

For all previous GoodBiz113 coverage of Blue Dog Relief, check out these links:
* "Louisiana Artist Brings Post-Katrina [Blue Dog] Relief to New Orleans" [09/26/2006]:
* "Rodrigue Teams With New Orleans Saints to Support Hurricane Katrina Relief" [11/28/2006]:
* "Blue Dog Relief Tally Reaches $750,000 for Katrina-Soaked Groups; Congress Acts to Help Keep Disaster-Stricken Communities, Small Businesses Afloat" [02/05/2007]:

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

American Express Empowers Cardmembers to Make a Positive Impact in the World Via Unique Online Program

GoodBiz113 advertiser American Express just announced a unique, online initiative called The Members Project [], which enables American Express® Cardmembers to come together as a community by submitting and sharing their project ideas for making a positive impact in the world. Cardmembers can rate and discuss the project ideas on message boards, and will ultimately vote and choose one innovative, winning idea that American Express will help bring to life with up to $5 million.

The Members Project -- which is a part of American Express' new brand campaign, "Are You a Cardmember?" -- highlights the value of being a Cardmember and part of the American Express Cardmember community.

"Our Cardmembers make up a unique community -- one that is highly engaged and passionate -- and we know that they care about the world around them," said Jud Linville, president of American Express Consumer Card Services Group. "Through the unique experience of The Members Project, our community of Cardmembers is pulling together and collectively shaking up the world just a little bit to do some good."

How The Members Project Works
Through June 17, Cardmembers can go to, register, and submit their project ideas for making a broad and positive impact in one of the following categories: Arts & Entertainment, Business & Finance, Education, Environment & Wildlife, Fun, Health & Fitness, and Community Development. Cardmembers can also participate by rating or posting comments about project ideas already submitted.

For every Cardmember that registers, regardless of whether they come up with a project idea or just add their input on project ideas already submitted, American Express will contribute $1 toward the winning idea. The more Cardmembers registered, the more dollars available. American Express will commit at least $1 million and up to $5 million for the winning idea.

Once the project idea submission and rating phase closes, starting June 18, American Express will work with a special Advisory Panel to review the top-rated projects and narrow the submissions to the top 50 ideas.

"In addition to our community of Cardmembers, we have enlisted a group of well-known and respected leaders across a number of fields to help us identify the ideas that are the most innovative, achievable and have a broad, positive impact on the world around us," added Linville.

Advisory Panelists include:
* Geoff Canada -- President and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone
* Ellen DeGeneres -- Comedian and Talk Show Host
* Dr. Jane Goodall -- Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace
* Rosabeth Moss Kanter -- Harvard Business School Professor
* Dr. Michael Lomax -- President and CEO, United Negro College Fund
* Wynton Marsalis -- Artistic Director, Jazz at Lincoln Center
* Gabrielle Reece -- Professional Volleyball Player and Sports/Fitness Expert

The top 50 ideas will be announced on July 3, and Cardmembers can then log-on and cast their vote for their favorite idea. Based on popular vote, the top 50 ideas will be narrowed to the top 25 ideas and then the top five, with the final winning idea announced on August 7.

American Express and Giving Back
Giving back is a core value of American Express, and being a "good citizen" is a hallmark of the brand. American Express was the first company to launch a cause-related marketing campaign, which was a program benefiting the Statue of Liberty in 1983. The Company has continued to roll out successful initiatives around the world that have enhanced the communities where we live and work, and bring support to causes.

Over the years, American Express has supported causes that are important to Cardmembers, merchant partners and the general public -- from reopening the Statue of Liberty after 9/11, to fighting hunger and preserving historic sites around the world. Through these programs, including The Members Project, American Express is providing an outlet for consumers' desire to "do good."

About American Express
American Express Company [] is a leading global payments, network and travel company founded in 1850.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

House Opens Federal Marketplace to More Small Business Participation, Helps Fight Fraud in Contracting System

As small businesses continue to struggle to access the $340 billion federal marketplace, the House last Wednesday [May 9] passed the most comprehensive reform of the contracting system for entrepreneurs in over a decade. H.R. 1873, the Small Business Fairness in Contracting Act, which increases small business access to federal contracts, offers protections against contract bundling, and prevents large businesses from receiving small-business contracts, passed by a wide margin of 409 to 13.

"For many entrepreneurs, access to federal contracts provides an important step in developing and expanding a business," said Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez [D-N.Y.], chairwoman of the U.S. House Committee on Small Business. "Today, the House passed legislation that ensures small business owners are competing on a level playing field. This is a major, and long overdue, step forward for entrepreneurs."

Over the past several years, small businesses' federal contracting opportunities have not kept pace with the expanding federal marketplace or small firms' growing share of the economy. Small companies confront numerous obstacles when attempting to access federal contracts, as the government continues to combine work into contracts too large for entrepreneurs to bid on, making the projects less accessible to small businesses.

In the past few years, small businesses have also lost out on opportunities, as contracts intended for small businesses were awarded to large corporations. There are currently few penalties for agencies and companies that misrepresent larges businesses as small.

The combination of barriers such as these has resulted in billions of dollars in lost contracting opportunity each year for this nation's small businesses.

"Awarding federal contracts to small businesses creates jobs, develops companies, promotes competition and yields the best value for the taxpayer dollar," said Chairwoman Velázquez. "Congress acted today to guarantee that our entrepreneurs get the opportunities they deserve and to hold the federal government more accountable for how taxpayer money is spent."

H.R. 1873, introduced by freshman Rep. Bruce Braley [D-Iowa], chairman of the Subcommittee on Contracting and Technology, makes more contracts available to small firms. During consideration of the bill, several measures also passed that raise the level of federal commitment to contracting with small businesses, ensure small firms can compete for overseas contracts, strengthen requirements for agencies to review the economic impacts of large contracts, and provide greater protections for small business subcontractors. These additions enhance improvements for small firms in H.R. 1873 that will allow for greater small business participation in the federal marketplace.

"I am proud that my first bill to pass the House is one that will help small businesses compete," Congressman Braley said. "The Small Business Fairness in Contracting Act ensures that small businesses have the same opportunities as large corporations to earn government business.

"When government contracts are awarded through huge super-contracts, small businesses just can't compete on a level playing field. By forcing government agencies to be held accountable for awarding these so-called 'bundled contracts,' more small businesses will have the opportunity to benefit from earning government business. Furthermore, by providing for the enforcement of these new provisions, this bill will have the teeth to make sure government agencies are following the law. At the end of the day, this means expanded opportunities for small business."

This legislation is part of the committee's ongoing work to restructure how small businesses interact with the federal procurement system. The Small Business Fairness in Contracting Act is the first piece of legislation to address problems outlined in the committee's annual scorecard on federal contracting.

GoodBiz113's take: Little by little, it seems, our rants/wish-list items [e.g., "Welcome to GoodBiz113!" "GoodBiz113 Drafts Small-Biz Wish List for 110th Congress," "GoodBiz113 Issues Open Memo to Leaders of Congressional Small Business Committees"] are helping to attract productive results for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Hats off to U.S. House members for forcing federal agencies to do the right thing for all concerned.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Kerry Calls for Investigation Into Women’s Business Center Funding Delays

On Wednesday [May 9], Sen. John Kerry [D-Mass.] asked the Inspector General of the Small Business Administration to conduct a thorough investigation into the agency’s onerous grant disbursal process to Women’s Business Centers [WBCs] nationwide.

“I want to know why Women’s Business Centers are receiving federal grants months and even years late,” said Kerry, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

“Each year, WBCs -- such as the Center for Women & Enterprise in Boston, Worcester and Providence -- help tens of thousands of women, minority and veteran entrepreneurs turn dreams into reality by providing critical business development assistance," Kerry noted. "These centers should be allowed to focus on providing these services, instead of worrying about how to get their funding from Washington.”

Leaders from WBCs around the country have charged that the application process for grants is arduous, with circuitous procedures that result in delayed grant disbursals for qualified centers.

Last year, WBCs assisted more than 197,000 businesses nationwide. In Massachusetts, WBCs served almost 2,500 women in 2006. Since 1995, the Center for Women and Enterprise, which serves Massachusetts and Rhode Island, has trained more than 13,000 entrepreneurs and helped them secure nearly $30 million in business loans, generating more than 15,000 jobs and $430 million in wages.

Following, is the text of Kerry’s letter to SBA Inspector General Eric M. Thorson:

May 9, 2007

Dear Mr. Thorson:

I have repeatedly heard from the leaders of Women’s Business Centers [WBCs] around the country that they are experiencing problems receiving their grants from the Small Business Administration [SBA], and I request that you immediately undertake an investigation into this matter.

For a number of years, the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship has received complaints from WBCs about the process of applying and receiving grants from the SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership. According to their stories, the process is unnecessarily lengthy and arduous. Information is repeatedly requested from WBCs and then lost. There have been cases where the same information is requested 10 or even 12 times. In addition, the process lacks clear guidelines and transparency. A WBC may believe that they supplied all necessary information, only to be told months later that they must supply additional documentation.

As a result of these and other shortcomings, the grants are often disbursed months or even years after the quarter in which the expenses were incurred. Since most WBCs rely on SBA funding as a major source of funding, this delayed reimbursement can be disastrous, especially for new or small WBCs.

It is simply unacceptable that WBCs continue to struggle to receive funding from the SBA. Therefore, I request that you undertake a full and complete investigation to determine the extent of any problems with the grant disbursal process and make recommendations on how to improve it.

If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact Karen Radermacher on my staff at 202-224-5175. Thank you for your attention to these matters.


John Kerry

GoodBiz113's take: We're very pleased that Sen. Kerry is holding SBA's Office of Inspector General accountable for achieving its stated mission, "To improve SBA management and effectiveness, and to detect and deter fraud in the Agency's programs." Kerry's bold efforts are bound to have positive and far-reaching ripple effects on all small businesses and our myriad stakeholders.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Freshman Rep. Heath Shuler: Broadband Critical to Rural Economic Development

As broadband reaches more areas of the country, rural and agriculture-based communities are searching for better ways to maximize its local economic development potential. On Wednesday [May 9], providers and consumers of rural telecommunications services told the U.S. House Small Business Subcommittee on Rural & Urban Entrepreneurship that, while these technologies can increase investment and employment in their communities, they are not yet being used to their full potential.

"Many rural communities across the country are struggling to remain competitive," said subcommittee Chairman Heath Shuler [D-N.C.], elected to the 110th Congress last Nov. 7. "By harnessing new technologies, we can create new opportunities, improving the way businesses -- especially, farms -- operate, and reverse this trend."

Broadband technologies have proven to be a key component of rural communities' growth and prosperity, facilitating partnerships, creating online infrastructure, and expanding the market for goods and services.

For farmers, high-speed Internet technology that helps control costs and optimize production -- such as remote temperature monitoring -- can be especially important, because the industry operates with low profit margins. Broadband can also be instrumental in creating networks of entrepreneurs that can increase employment and spur additional investment.

Although this technology has reached 99 percent of ZIP codes, these benefits are only beginning to emerge in rural America.

"As today's economy changes, so do the needs of this nation's entrepreneurs," Chairman Shuler said. "Expanding the economic benefits of broadband is one way to help this nation's farmers and rural small businesses, increase the efficiency of their operations, and, in turn, support economic growth."

During the hearing, suppliers and consumers of rural broadband outlined strategies that use this technology to expand rural economic development. These innovative community partnerships, industry co-ops and economic synergies use broadband to accelerate economic activities in creative, scalable ways.

Furthermore, witnesses identified policies that can help more areas implement these programs -- including strengthening of the Universal Service Fund and Broadband Utility Service. By reducing costs and speeding the uptake of emerging technologies, these steps will promote the expansion of community and economic development initiatives.

"As today's discussion demonstrated, broadband can transform rural communities by bringing entrepreneurs together, and connecting small-business owners to customers," said Chairman Shuler. "This technology is exciting because we are still creating the new ways to use broadband for development in districts like mine. More needs to be invested to ensure this innovation and the development it encourages to reach all Americans."

Wednesday's hearing continues the committee's examination of rural economic development issues. Last week, the committee began a series on renewable fuels, with a look at how those technologies are encouraging development in rural America.

Click here to read to prepared testimony from Wednesday's hearing.

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